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Using Student Achievement to Evaluate Teachers

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

This piece is reprinted from The Marshall Memo, Kim Marshall’s weekly summary of current research and best practices in the field of education. Drawing on his experience as a teacher, principal, central office administrator, consultant, and writer, Kim Marshall lightens the load of busy educators by serving as their “designated reader.”
“Running in Place: How New Teacher Evaluations Fail to Live Up to Promises” by Kate Walsh, Nithya Joseph, Kelli Lakis, and Sam Lubell, a National Council on Teacher Quality white paper, January 2017, Final Evaluation Paper
“Despite the tremendous political capital, money, and time that educators, state
officials, and policymakers have spent on reforming teacher-evaluation systems,” say Kate Walsh, Nithya Joseph, Kelli Lakis, and Sam Lubell in this National Council on Teacher Quality white paper, “states have been running in place with no evidence of real change with regard to the distribution of final evaluation ratings.” As was the case when the widely read TNTP “Widget Effect” study was released in 2009, virtually all teachers are still being rated proficient or above – despite a concerted policy effort to include student achievement as a significant factor in teachers’ evaluations. Common sense tells us, says Walsh, Joseph, Lakis, and Lubell, that it’s “highly unlikely” that virtually all teachers are effective or highly effective when student achievement is so uneven. “If districts label all of their teachers effective, then an evaluation becomes essentially pointless…”
How did this happen? The explanation, say the authors, is that almost all states’ policies allow teachers whose students didn’t make adequate progress to still get satisfactory or even exemplary performance ratings. “Since the main purposes of rating teachers,” they continue, “are to inform efforts to support and develop all teachers, to recognize and reward effective ones, and to intervene where teachers with performance issues continually fail to improve, such a low bar for rating teachers’ performance is counterproductive.” The authors’ position is that no teacher should be able to earn a passing summative evaluation unless his or her students make satisfactory learning gains.
Who was responsible for the current situation? Walsh, Joseph, Lakis, and Lubell did a thorough analysis of each state’s policies and point an accusing finger at state education agencies – while scratching their heads about the motive. “In states adopting new evaluation laws over the past several years,” they say, “lawmakers declared that by amending evaluations to include objective measures of student learning, evaluations would become a tool to more meaningfully assess teacher performance. But this goal was lost when state educational agencies drafted regulations and guidance that minimized the role of student growth in final evaluation ratings. What remains unknown is why state educational agencies put forth regulations and guidance that would allow teachers to be rated effective without meeting their student growth goals, or even if they knew the implications of their decisions. Regardless, what is known is that in all but a few states, the influence of the student learning component on summative evaluation ratings was minimized before these systems were ever implemented.”
[It certainly sounds logical that student achievement should be a significant part of teachers’ evaluations, which is why the Obama administration’s Race to the Top legislation and most states moved in that direction. But in the last few years, most assessment experts have raised serious concerns about the validity and reliability of using test scores for high-stakes evaluations of individual teachers. And when teacher-developed assessments have been used in non-tested grades and subjects, there’s evidence of widespread gaming of the system by teachers who are concerned, quite naturally, about high-stakes use of the data in their evaluations.
So maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to blame state education agencies for creating such porous regulations. The problem, rather, lies with a well-intentioned but fatally flawed approach to evaluating teachers. It’s now clear that there isn’t a fair and accurate way to include student achievement in individual teachers’ evaluations. But there are ways, used by a number of successful schools, to get teacher teams working together to measure their students’ beginning- and end-of-year achievement and collaborating during each year to get their students achieving at high levels. Their collective value-add can be noted in individual teachers’ evaluations in a way that rewards collective effort without high stakes.
The keys elements are: (a) valid, school-based measures of student learning such as Fountas-Pinnell reading levels, six-trait writing rubrics, performance assessments, and portfolios; (b) a focus on students’ growth during the school year; (c) teachers’ collective responsibility for student learning using frequent formative assessments; (d) regular classroom visits by supervisors and instructional coaches to monitor and support the process; and (e) keeping the stakes at the medium level, so everyone takes the process seriously but there are no incentives to game the system. K.M.

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02/19/2017 - DavidBy
Dear Mr Marshal,

Even though I am now retired after 41 years of mainly teaching High School Chemistry & Physics I cannot in good conscious let your recent commentary about “Using Student Achievement to Evaluate Teachers” in the 17 Feb 2017 issue of “The International Educator” go by without responding to it.

I taught for 32 years for 3 different high schools in the state of Arizona and for 9 years at one of the oldest International Schools in Bangkok. At each of these schools I taught students who ranged in age from 16-19 years of age who were in my classes for 1 or 2 years. In most every case after their time with me they graduated from high school and moved on with their life. I on the other hand stayed at the school.

My teaching was based on the education that I learned from my BAEd in Chemistry and my MAEd in Secondary Education, hundreds of hours of workshops, more hundreds of hours of Professional Development, self-study and the many excellent colleagues that I had the good fortune to work with over the years.

Yet your commentary recommends that my work be evaluated by the achievement results of 16-19 year olds who have little or no interest in how I earn my living? And I can only imagine the strain on those, like my wife, who teach 11-14 year old Middle School students or those saints who teach the K-5 students.

I’m the one on the classroom who has put in the time and effort to learn the subjects that I am teaching, to learn how to teach these subjects to real students and yet I am going to be evaluated by their achievement when they have little or no buy-in to the importance of their achievement to someone other than themselves?

I am glad that I am at this end of my teaching career rather than in the early phases of it as now it would be very hard to choose make the sacrifices necessary to make a career out of it as I did.